(Reuters) - The governor of Illinois on Monday issued an emergency preparedness plan ahead of a "historic" polar vortex of cold air and wind descending on much of the U.S., warning residents that temperatures were likely to plunge well below zero.
Governor J.B. Pritzker said wind chill could drive temperatures to -55 degrees Fahrenheit in northern Illinois on Tuesday evening, capable of causing frostbite in a matter of minutes.
"This is a potentially historic winter storm that will bring extreme cold to our state and all Illinoisans must prepare," Pritzker said in a written statement released by his office."Our administration is putting into place an Emergency Preparedness Plan with key state agencies as well as warning residents about these life-threatening conditions."
The so-called polar vortex weather system was expected to send frigid winds that circulate around the North Pole across much of the United States from the Dakotas through New England, National Weather Service meteorologist Brian Hurley said.
"If you live up in the Arctic Circle, you'd say this is pretty normal. When it's actually brought down to this level, that's when you know it's something serious," Hurley said.
Blizzard conditions were predicted across parts of the western Ohio Valley and snow was expected through Wednesday from the Great Lakes region into New England.
Snowfall was also expected in the Dakotas, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota; and in Central Michigan, where a foot (30 cm) or more of snow is expected, the weather service said.
Chicago will take the main brunt of the super cold weather, with widespread heavy snow already affecting the area on Monday, the weather service said on Twitter. Wind chills as low as -50 F (-46C) were also expected by Tuesday evening through Thursday morning.
The service's Des Moines, Iowa, branch said "dangerous, life-threatening cold air" will hit the Midwestern state from Tuesday morning through Friday morning, with wind chill values on Wednesday likely to range from minus 45 Fahrenheit (minus 43 C) to minus 55 Fahrenheit (minus 48 C) across the northern part of the state.
Nearly 2,300 U.S. flights had been canceled and another 11,800 delayed as of Monday evening, many attributed to the storm.
Delta Air Lines Inc said it would waive flight change fees for passengers affected by the winter weather in Chicago, Detroit and areas of the Upper Midwest.
(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Maria Caspani and Gina Cherelus in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; editing by Diane Craft)